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Not So Shy: NWRC Research Finds Urban Coyotes Are Bolder Than Their Country Cousins

In a new Scientific Reports publication, NWRC and Utah State University researchers highlight behavioral differences between urban and rural coyotes. Their findings have important implications for managing urban coyotes.

Some wildlife species readily adapt to changing landscapes and urban environments. The coyote is one of them. To help understand how coyotes have adapted to living in cities, NWRC and Utah State University researchers compared two ecologically and evolutionarily important behavioral traits in rural and urban coyotes: 1) bold-shy, and 2) exploration-avoidance behavior. Boldness relates to an animal’s reaction to a risky situation, whereas exploration relates to an animal’s willingness to explore novel objects or situations.

“Our results show that urban coyotes are bolder and more exploratory than rural coyotes, and that within urban and rural coyote populations there are individuals that vary across both spectrums,” states NWRC research wildlife biologist Stewart Breck.

The results are based on a series of tests that looked at individual coyote’s flight initiation distances (FID, i.e., the distance at which an animal begins to flee from an approaching predator or threat) and their willingness to take risk and approach a novel object in their environment.

“Forty-six percent of coyotes in urban areas showed a relatively low-level flight response when approached by people,” notes Breck. “Basically, they moved slowly away, stopped, and looked back as they retreated. In contrast, 80 percent of rural coyotes had a strong flight response— fleeing rapidly without looking back.”

Results from the novel object test complemented the FID results. When presented with a novel object, urban coyotes had higher visitation rates, spent more time in close proximity to the novel object, and spent more time demonstrating investigative, vigilant, and comfort behaviors than rural coyotes. Researchers note that bolder behavior in urban coyotes emerged over several decades and speculate that the primary factor influencing this change is human behavior and how people treat coyotes. In rural areas, coyotes are regularly persecuted through hunting and trapping; whereas in urban areas, coyotes are rarely persecuted and may even be rewarded sometimes with food when in close proximity to people.

The consequences of this behavioral adaptation are coyotes that become bold enough to prey on pets or attack people.

Understanding bold, exploratory, and aggressive behaviors in coyotes, and the role that people play, helps wildlife managers and communities learn to coexist with these and other carnivore species.

For more information, please contact NWRC@usda.gov.

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